David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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In Mark Bevir (ed.), Encyclopedia of Political Theory. SAGE Publications (2010)
The term neoclassical economics delineates a distinct and relatively homogenous school of thought in economic theory that became prominent in the late nineteenth century and that now dominates mainstream economics. The term was originally introduced by Thorstein Veblen to describe developments in the discipline (of which Veblen did not entirely approve) associated with the work of such figures as William Jevons, Carl Menger, and Leon Walras. The ambition of these figures, the first neoclassicists, was to formalize and mathematize the subject in the aftermath of the so-called marginalist revolution. Economics is, according to one definition, the science that studies human behavior as a relationship between ends and scarce means that have alternative uses. Neoclassical economics pursues this study by means of supply and demand models that determine prices based on the subjective preferences of producers and consumers. Neoclassical economics relies on subjective preferences for determining prices in order to escape from the so-called objective value theory of classical economics, according to which the value of goods could be established by reference to some basic commodity (usually corn) or the labor input required to produce a good. Neoclassicists hoped that by jettisoning objective value, economics could be placed on a more scientific basis as an essentially descriptive and predictive theory of human behavior. Political theory, by contrast, involves both positive and normative elements. It is a positive science to the extent to which it aims to describe and predict political behavior. It is a normative science to the extent to which it prescribes how agents should behave in the political arena and what the best political institutions are. Neoclassical economics is relevant to both of these elements.
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